Ser y Estar (by Lazarus)

Ser y Estar (by Lazarus)


The CID rule: SER is used to classify, identify, and define (CID) - three closely related terms, sometimes indistinguishable. Examples:

Define: Un avión es un vehículo con alas. An airplane is a vehicle with wings. (it could also be a classification)

Classify/Identify: Mi amigo es mexicano My friend is Mexican Este producto es muy peligroso This product is very dangerous. Ese es mi hermano. That is my brother. Mi anillo es de oro Mi ring is golden Mi anillo es amarillo Mi ring is yellow Mi anillo es bonito Mi ring is nice Soy médico I am a doctor (don't say 'un doctor', unless you specify what makes you different from the rest of the doctors) Mark es aburrido Mark is boring (classifying him as boring) Joe es gordo Joe is fat (classified as a fat person) La manzana es buena para la salud Apples are good for health (classification)

Notes: ' Nouns and pronouns are words used to define, identify and classify, so nouns go with SER. ' In Spanish we don't say 'I am 20 y.o.', but 'I have 20 years? (Tengo 20 años)

The verb ESTAR is used for situations and states in time and space.

Estoy aquí. I am here Estoy bien I am well Estoy cansado I am tired (this is not a classification: I am not a tired kind of person) Mark está aburrido Mark is bored (not classifying him as a boring person) Joe está gordo Joe is fat (he is not a kind of fat person. Last time I saw him, he was slim. Changes in time are considered here) La manzana está buena The apple is good/tastes well (state experienced here and now)

Notes: ' nouns cannot be used with ESTAR. Do not say 'Estoy un doctor o 'Estoy John Smith'. ' many adjectives have different meanings (in all languages), e.g. 'listo means both 'smart and 'ready'. The former is used to classify (and therefore, with SER), and 'listo' is used as a state (and therefore, with ESTAR). ' Marital status can go with either verb, but married and single are used more with ESTAR.


1) ESTAR + present participle ('gerundio') is used for progressive constructions:

Estoy comiendo I am eating

2) SER + past particple ('participio') is used for passive constructions indicating actions. These are not as common in Spanish as they are in English:

El puente será construido el año próximo The bridge will be built next year (by someone)

3) ESTAR + past participle ('participio') is used to indicate the result of an action:

La tienda está cerrada The shop is closed (result, not action: it is not closed or being by anyone, but already closed)

4) SER is used to tell time:

Es la una It is one (o'clock) Son las dos It is two (o'clock)

5) Both SER and ESTAR can be used for dates, months and days of the week:

Hoy es 23 de febrero Today is February 23rd Hoy es jueves Today is Thursday Hoy estamos a 23 de febrero Today is February 23rd Hoy estamos a jueves Today is Thursday

6) SER is used for prices (instead of 'costar'):

¿Cuánto es (todo)? How much is it(/everything)? Son 30 dólares It is 30 dollars


Definitions and classifications are generally regarded as timeless and not restricted to any particular place. We don't say 'Water is a liquid... here and on Mondays only'. States and situations, on the other hand, are normally associated with places and moments.

For this reason, some books and pages say that SER is for permanent things, and ESTAR is for temporary things. Although this can relatively often be true, it is not advisable to use this pseudo-rule, because it is not a real rule, and it leads to constant confusions and contradictions. For example, the location of a place or an object can be either permanent (i.e. a building) or temporary (i.e. a book).

Mi abuelo está muerto My grandpa is dead (not exactly a temporary situation: he is not going to resucitate) Nueva York está en los EE. UU. New York is in USA (A perfectly permanent situation)

Notice how the CID rule (identification/definition/classification) works in all the examples above.

The temporary/permanent fake rule leads to mistakes like these (both corrected):

Soy un estudiante I am a student (this is temporary: I graduate next week) Jorge es menor de edad Jorge is underage (this is temporary: his 18th birthday is tomorrow)

Being a student and underage are regarded as classifications, because no moment or place is taken into account to make such statements, but the way we perceive them in our society (yes, this is subjective, of course). Particularly, 'un estudiante' is a noun, and nouns cannot go with ESTAR, since they are used to identify and classify things and people.

Do not use the temporary / permanent rule!

updated AGO 29, 2012
edited by martha-sd
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